It is becoming a cardinal rule of college football these days: No matter how good Michigan looks early in the season, do not buy into the hype. They will disappoint you. It is inevitable.
But for much of this game, it looked like Michigan was actually going to pull it out and march onward unbeaten. They were up 30-14 at one point, after all.
And yes, there were a few calls that went against Michigan in this game. I’ll give them that. The sack fumble late in the second quarter should have counted as a touchdown for Michigan. Instead the refs ruled Peyton Thorne’s leg was down. It was close, but the ruling on the field was a fumble touchdown for Michigan, and I don’t think it should have been overturned.
Also, Kenneth Walker’s first touchdown of the game, it looked like he actually fumbled it either just before crossing the goal line or right as he crossed. It was a pretty inexplicable fumble, too. It wasn’t caused by a defender or a tackle or anything. No one was even near him. The ball just popped out of his grasp. You could tell he knew it was iffy, too. He didn’t even celebrate. The expression on his face was more like, “I fucked up.” But the refs let it stand. I’m not going to say it should’ve been overturned and ruled a touchback, but it very well could’ve.
And the 4th down no-call at the end, that probably could’ve been flagged for DPI.
So Michigan kinda did get screwed by the refs.
But the refs shouldn’t be the story of the game. Despite the refs, Michigan still had opportunities to win. Again, they built up a 30-14 lead in the game. Then they allowed Michigan State to score two unanswered TDs + 2 point conversions to tie it up. Michigan could only manage a field goal in the 4th quarter, while Sparty got yet another TD from Kenneth Walker to go up for good.
And Kenneth Walker was obviously the player of the game. 5 TDs, 23 carries, 197 yards, plus 3 catches for 11 yards to total 208 yards from scrimmage. The dude was phenomenal, and he needs to be right in the thick of the Heisman race. In a season where we’ve not really had any real Heisman moments thus far, Kenneth Walker had one today: the entire game. When you talk about a player that’s a difference-maker, Kenneth Walker is that dude. Michigan State might have gotten blown out in this game without him. He was the main reason Sparty won.
Sparty’s defense did get some stops in the game late, and during the comeback from down 16, but they did let Michigan throw for 406 yards and run for 146. Michigan outgained Sparty 552-395 in the game. I mean if you look at the box score, you’d think Michigan won the game. They were the better team for most of the game.
But Michigan State has Kenneth Walker, and Michigan doesn’t. That’s the difference.
So now Sparty improves to 8-0 and 5-0 in Big Ten play, taking the lead in the Eastern Division at least for the moment. Ohio State plays Penn State tonight, and if Ohio State wins, they go to 5-0 in conference play as well.
Michigan now does not control its own destiny. They need Michigan State to lose twice, which could happen, as Sparty still has to play Ohio State and Penn State, as well as Purdue and Maryland. But Michigan also needs to win out, and that’s not a guarantee as they also still have to play Penn State and Ohio State.
I’m going to hold off on making any judgements on the state of the Big Ten race until after the Ohio State-Penn State game, but Ohio State is favored by 18.5. If Ohio State takes care of business as expected, you have to view them as the favorite.
But I do want to give Sparty props. I thought they were frauds. They had some close calls against Nebraska and Indiana, and in light of those games I figured Michigan would win this game.
I still don’t know if I’m buying Sparty as a real threat to Ohio State, but they have certainly exceeded my expectations. Great win for Mel Tucker and Michigan State.